Two tiny insects in Glacier Park proposed as endangered

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Zapada glacier habitat at the outlet of Grinnell Glacier Lake. Photo by Jean Tabbert.

A pair of tiny alpine insects found primarily inside Glacier National Park have been proposed for listing as threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday.

Biologists believe the meltwater lednian stonefly and the western glacier stonefly are acutely at risk for extinction as the effects of climate change progress. Both insects are dependent on extremely cold water for their survival, and are found primarily in the meltwater immediately downstream from the vanishing glaciers and year-round snowfields in the region.

“The good news is four potential new populations of the western glacier stonefly are believed to have been found in the Beartooth Mountains in southwestern Montana and Grand Teton National Park,” the federal wildlife agency stated in a press release sent Monday evening. “The bad news is their glaciers are melting, putting the icy streams where stoneflies thrive in danger from drought and climate change.”

Previously, only four populations of the western glacier stonefly had been identified, all within Glacier. The slightly more common lednian stonefly has also been found outside the confines of the park, with its 58 known populations including a few remote locations in the Great Bear Wilderness and in the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness.

In 2011, the federal agency determined that the listing for the lednian stonefly was “warranted but precluded” — meaning the species was eligible to be listed under the federal statute but was not a high-enough priority for the agency.

The proposed rule cites the anticipated loss of the park’s glaciers to climate change as an impending threat to the stoneflies, although some populations have also been found in the frigid streams fed year-round by some alpine artesian wells.

A widely cited 2003 study led by U.S. Geological Survey climate ecologist Dan Fagre predicts that most of the park’s glaciers will vanish or downgrade to snowfields by 2030. The proposed rule also refers to a 2010 global warming study, led by Univeristy of Montana researcher Joel Brown, that focused solely on Sperry Glacier and estimated it would persist until about 2080, in part due to annual avalanches adding to its volume.

“By 2030, the modeled distribution of habitat with the highest likelihood of supporting meltwater lednian stonefly populations is predicted to decline by 81 percent in GNP,” the listing proposal states.

Scientists have also proposed translocation as a measure to keep the species extant. It’s a method that has seen some success with threatened fish species, wherein new populations are established by moving individuals to areas like the Canadian Rockies, where existing glaciers are expected to hang on longer than those in the park.

The agency stated in the release it hopes to reach a final decision on whether to list the insects within one year.

If one or both of the stoneflies are listed, the Fish and Wildlife Service will then draft a recovery outline, which is used to guide urgent recovery actions. The agency would then draft a recovery plan including specific recovery criteria and a plan for multiple agencies to collaborate on the recovery

MONDAY’S ANNOUNCEMENT opens a 60-day public comment period for the public to provide additional information and weigh in on whether the species should be listed.

Another public comment period will also begin once the Fish and Wildlife Service completes its analysis of the four new populations believed to exist further south.

The proposed listing rule can be viewed by visiting www.regulations.gov and searching for Docket Number FWS–R6–ES–2016–0086.

Comments can be submitted by clicking the “Comment Now!” button on the website, or mailing them to: Public Comments Processing; Attn: Docket No. FWS–R6–ES–2016–0086; U.S. Fish & Wildlife, MS: BPHC; 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

Comments submitted during this comment period must be postmarked on or before Dec. 5.

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